Alex St. Peters
Many Seinfeld fans know of the holiday “Festivus”, but many do not know the actual holiday predates the Seinfeld episode. The real Festivus holiday comes from Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe’s father Daniel O’Keefe. Festivus came to the masses in the 1997 Seinfeld episode “The Strike”, but according to the O’Keefe family the first Festivus was in 1966.
In the Seinfeld episode, Festivus was a holiday created by George Costanza’s father Frank. The origin of the Festivus was the result of Frank’s refusal to conform to the increased commercialism and consumerism of the Christmas season. During a shopping outing for his son, Frank reached for the last doll at the same time as another man and a fight ensued. However, as Frank was raining blows down on the man he realized there had to be another way. Out of the commotion, a new holiday was born “A Festivus for the rest of us.”
In Frank’s new holiday instead of a Christmas tree a metal pole is used and there is no decoration required because Frank finds “tinsel distracting.” Then during the Festivus dinner, everybody gathers around the table and you tell them all the ways they’ve disappointed you over the past year in a ceremony called “The Airing of Grievances.” Then finally, Festivus isn’t over until the head of the house is pinned in another ceremony called “The Feats of Strength.” It’s tradition that the head of the house chooses a person to wrestle and the person cannot decline, unless they have something better to do.
Some aspects of Frank Costanza’s version of Festivus are apart of the original holiday, but the real holiday is far more obscure than it’s depicted in Seinfeld.
The reason the O’Keefe version of Festivus was created was similar to Frank Costanza’s reason for creating the holiday. Daniel O’Keefe wanted a holiday that was secular and not burdened by the religious and commercialism of the holiday season. In 1966, Festivus was born and the first Festivus was held on the anniversary of the first date between O’Keefe and his soon to be fiancee Deborah.
According to the O’Keefe family, Festivus was celebrated every year throughout the 70s and 80s. In the Seinfeld episode, Festivus occurred right around the same time as Christmas, but the original holiday had no set date. The holiday could occur at any time during the year and it hardly occurred around the Christmas season.
The O’Keefe version of Festivus didn’t have a metal pole as the symbol like in the Seinfeld episode but had a far stranger symbol. The most common symbol of Festivus was a clock in a bag that was nailed to the wall next to a sign that said “F**k Fascism.” The meaning of the clock in a bag was unknown to everybody besides Daniel O’Keefe. It’s said when the O’Keefe children would ask their father the meaning he would simply say “That’s not for you to know. How mysterious.”
The original Festivus didn’t have any attire paired with it, but hats were often worn during the holiday. Some of the favorite hat choices were a Viking hat (with play-doh horns attached), a brimless cub scouts hat (with tinfoil decorations), and a pointy dunce cap.
Also just like Frank Costanza in the Seinfeld episode, Daniel O’Keefe would also record the holiday, specifically the airing of grievances. The O’Keefe Festivus didn’t necessarily have an airing of grievances, but they did have a time where they spoke out on things that were bothering them.
Another aspect of the Costanza Festivus that wasn’t apart of the original holiday was the Feats of Strength. According to Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe, there never was a Feats of Strength, but there were wrestling matches between himself and his two brothers.
Even though many parts of the original O’Keefe Festivus were not apart of the Seinfeld version of the holiday one very important part of the O’Keefe version was in the show. The phrase “A Festivus for the Rest of Us”, which is yelled by Frank Costanza during the episode, is an actual O’Keefe Festivus family motto. Dan O’Keefe explained the phrase in a 2009 interview, saying “A Festivus for the Rest of Us was an actual family Festivus motto, referring initially to those remaining after the death of my father’s mother, and then coming to mean in general a forward-looking focus on life and the living, i.e. ‘Let the dead bury the dead’.”
If you want to celebrate the Seinfeld version of Festivus it’s about time to break out the aluminum pole with a very high strength-to-weight ratio out of the crawl space. The set date for the Seinfeld version is Dec. 23 or you can just celebrate any time you want like it’s meant to be in the O’Keefe version. I wish that your family’s Festivus is filled with Festivus miracles and a great airing of grievances. It’s a Festivus for the rest of us!
To “Air Your Grievances” comment below, or click here to go to the Festivus website